13 October 2016

Bringing it Together: Genealogy and Genetic Genealogy

My, how times change!

Six years ago I was lamenting that there was little overlap between the people I see at genealogy conferences and those I see at genetic genealogy conferences. The overlap could be counted on my fingers—without using any fingers more than once! I could not understand why many of my genealogy friends did not see how powerful and important DNA test results are to solving our research problems. I could not understand why many of my genetic genealogy friends did not see the need for the Genealogical Proof Standard and thorough research.

In 2012, I got to know CeCe Moore and Blaine T. Bettinger well enough to discuss this mystery. We decided what we needed first was more education in the community. Conference presentations are great, but what you can cover in an hour, or even four, is very limited. I sent CeCe and Blaine an outline for a week-long genetic genealogy course. We all collaborated on changes and additions. We then divided the course outline into thirds. We presented the first course in the summer of 2014 at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) at the invitation of directors Elissa Scalise Powell and Deborah Lichtner Deal.

The number of institute courses have exploded. The number of institute instructors has grown. Today, eight or more different week-long courses have been offered or are planned. The course at each institute is somewhat different than the similar-level course at another institute. Multiple two- to three-day courses focusing on specialties, such as adoption or forensic work, have been offered at the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG) Forensic Genealogy Institute (FGI). Angie Bush joined the team for a period when the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) decided to offer both beginner and advanced courses. Patti Lee Hobbs, CG, and Karen Stanbary, CG, joined the team as instructors at GRIP and IGHR. Debra Renard presented a case study and tools sessions at IGHR this year. Paul Woodbury is joining the SLIG team for 2017.

The craving for genetic genealogy education is worldwide and spreads beyond the institutes. For several years before these U.S. institutes started, the U.K has hosted the "Who do You Think You Are? Live" event. Since 2013, there has been a Genetic Genealogy Ireland event. Since 2013, Southern California Genealogy Jamboree has offered a DNA Day pre-conference event in Burbank, California. In 2014, the Institute for Genetic Genealogy (I4GG) offered their first two-day event focused on DNA. Many advanced sessions were offered. This year I4GG seems to be focusing more on basic adoption and unknown parentage research with a few advanced sessions. The University of Strathclyde in Scotland offers genetic genealogy courses. Blaine T. Bettinger teaches an online course at Excelsior College in the U.S. Debbie Parker Wayne developed the online, self-paced course Continuing Genealogical Studies: Autosomal DNA, offered by NGS. And there are an uncountable number of webinars and short courses available online. There have even been genetic genealogy cruises and tons of television shows!

These brief statistics demonstrate how institute education in the U.S. on genetic genealogy has skyrocketed since July 2014.

  • 347 genealogists and adoption searchers have attended DNA institute courses (GRIP, SLIG, IGHR, offering week-long beginner, beginner/intermediate, intermediate, and advanced courses; or CAFG's FGI offering two to three day focused courses)
  • 39 of those students (more than 10% of the total number) are credentialed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, many have attended multiple courses (BCG has additional associates with college degrees in Biology, Biotechnology, and related fields who understand DNA even without attending one of these courses; the number of ICAPgen accredited genealogists who may have attended, if any, is not known)
  • 31 of those students have only attended shorter courses focused on unknown parentage, adoption, or forensic specialties (perhaps because that is the focus of their work, they have not been able to schedule time yet to attend one of the longer and more comprehensive institutes, or some other reason)
  • 232 students have taken only one course
  • 90 students have taken two courses at differing levels
  • 15 students have taken three courses at differing levels
  • 10 students have taken four courses at differing levels
  • 5 students retook the same level course more than once (this is a good thing to do if you miss some sessions the first time, to ensure you did not miss anything important the first time even if you attended every presentation, and to cement those more difficult concepts and techniques)

The genealogy community now understands the importance of genetic genealogy.

I will be even happier when we get the genetic genealogy community to become more a part of the genealogy community. Maybe we will see more DNA speakers who are well-known on the "genetic side" invited to speak at the national genealogy conferences. Studying the Genealogy Standards3 and incorporating its concepts into your DNA presentations is a good start at showing you understand both "sides" of genealogy. It would be fabulous for us all to be one community instead of two, and for all of the conference planners to know who is good at both genetic genealogy and documentary genealogy. Both are needed to be a great genealogist, which is the goal for most of us.

1. OpenClipartVectors, dna-148807_1280.png (https://pixabay.com/en/dna-gene-genetic-helix-rna-148807/ : accessed 26 December 2015). CC0 Public Domain.
2. Fry Library, "Old Library, History Reading Room, 1964," digital image, Flickr Creative Commons (http://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/3925726829/ : accessed 5 December 2011); Fry Library. Photograph taken during the making of a BBC documentary.
3. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 50th anniversary ed. (Nashville, TN: Ancestry Imprint, Turner Publishing, 2014).

To cite this blog post:
Debbie Parker Wayne, "Bringing it Together: Genealogy and Genetic Genealogy," Deb's Delvings, 13 October 2016 (http://debsdelvings.blogspot.com/ : accessed [date]).

© 2016, Debbie Parker Wayne, Certified Genealogist®, All Rights Reserved


  1. Wonderful to see these statistics, Deb! Thank you for sharing them. I would like to comment on one item. You described the DNA courses at the Forensic Genealogy Institute as "shorter courses." The courses at at least the first four Forensic Genealogy Institutes with which I was involved were offered over three days, but contained 20 hours of instruction, the same as the week-long institutes. The days were an intensive, immersion experience.

    1. Thanks for this input, Cathi. I might change my mind if I attend one of the courses that cover fewer days on DNA (and I will be teaching one in 2017). But at this time I believe that cramming more hours of lecture into fewer days may not be as productive for the students to learn a complex topic like DNA as spreading it over more days. Even after five days our students mostly express a desire for more time. I'll let you know what I think after next year at FGI.

  2. In addition the list above you might be interested to know that the Guild of One-Name Studies has held one-day educational DNA seminars every two or three years since 2004. They're always one of the most popular seminars regularly attracting over 100 attendees.

    Many of the lectures from Genetic Genealogy Ireland and Who Do You Think You Are? Live are made available on YouTube, which has allowed us to reach a much wider audience. Many of these talks have had several thousand views.

    The idea of a week-long "Institute" seems to be less popular in the UK. I taught one of the days for this year's Strathclyde Institute but there were only six participants though I don't think the course was publicised as widely as it could have been.

    From this side of the Atlantic it seems that the big problem is we need to encourage more genealogists to embrace DNA testing rather than the other way round. Genetic genealogists usually start out as genealogists rather than the other way round.

    1. Thanks for sharing this info, Debbie. I did not include any of the U.S one-day seminars, workshops, or webinars in my count either. We have had many of those on this side of the Atlantic, too, with thousands of attendees. Obviously, I am biased for institutes for in-depth learning as opposed to conferences, seminars, and webinars/videos. Institutes were my choice even before I became a speaker.

      Being able to coordinate between speaker sessions and efficiently use a full week at an institute has been very helpful to allow us to cover as much DNA information as possible, with as little repetition as possible, to get the concepts and techniques across to students.

      Many of us in the U.S. prefer the in-depth coverage at institutes. I went to my first institute in 2003. We did not see the frenzy to register before the course filled up that we see today with all major institutes. It seems to take time for the community to see the advantage of in-depth study over the broad but shallow presentations at most conferences with a one hour limit on sessions. Both have their place. The complexity of DNA analysis, once you get beyond the very basic level, lends itself well to the institute experience.

    2. I suspect we have a somewhat different emphasis on DNA testing in the UK with a much bigger focus on Y-chromosome testing and all the complexities of analysing next generation sequencing data. Y-DNA seems to be much less of a focus in the US Institutes where autosomal DNA is the dominant subject. With autosomal DNA analysis is generally more straightfoward in the UK. We don't have all the issues with endogamy and closed adoption records and we have civil registration records going back to 1837 that are indexed centrally. The big problem is that not enough people have tested yet outside the US to give us too many useful autosomal DNA matches and that limits what can be done with the data.

    3. While we cover all types of DNA testing used for genealogy in the U.S. institutes, we do spend more time on autosomal analysis because that seems harder for most people to understand fully and there are so many tools to cover. The hands-on exercises we use incorporate all types of DNA test results. The new beginner course being offered at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical research next summer show how all types of DNA test results can be incorporated in one family study. Where the Y-DNA results alone are not conclusive, the atDNA results provide additional evidence to confirm or refute a relationship.

      WE definitely have an advantage in that the majority of the test-takers have been in the U.S. We have more cousins to compare to. I hope that changes as more people throughout the world become interested in testing.

      The different records available in each region make a big difference in how genealogical research is done. Many places in the U.S. northeast have vital records going back to the earliest days of settlement. Unfortunately, in the south most states did not enact birth and death registrations until the late 19th or early 20th century.

      Doing most of my work in the south, I really envy you in the U.K. and those in the northeast here who have birth records beginning so early.

    4. The cap WE in the second paragraph is a typo - not meant as emphasis.